This is a guest post by the Rev’d Dr Gavin Ashenden.
The public square is a charged place. Three contenders are striving against each other. Emotion, reason and fundamentalism are locked in a public struggle for the soul and mind of the body politic.
The emotion is born of fear and anger. Fear of murder, fear of the bombing of little children, fear of public acts of terror.
The anger is aimed at those who did it and those who allowed it to be done.
Reason raises its head and is engaged as people try to think clearly, define, analyse, diagnose and find solutions.
The fundamentalism, however, comes in two forms. The first form is Islam and its uncritical acceptance of the Koran. The second form is the dogma or progressive politics, and the uncritical acceptance of the dogma of pseudo-tolerance and pseudo-inclusion.
When I was a teenager, someone invented a new board game. It had three teams on a square board – psychiatrists, priests and lawyers. They leapt over each other and took each other like draughts or chess pieces. According to the values or rules of this game, the priests could carry off the lawyers; the lawyer triumphed over the psychiatrists and the psychiatrists beat the priests (Freud and Feuerbach would have been delighted at the triumph of their hierarchy of values).
It was fun for a while, but it never caught on widely.
Our public contest resembles this game a little. Fundamentalism is stronger than emotion and emotion stronger than reason, but at this point the rules fail. Reason neither matches nor captures either.
The heart-breaking misery and anger of the parents and friends of the dead children and adults who were targeted not just by a bomb, but by a shrapnel bomb, carefully and consciously designed to maim and punish as well as kill, dare not express their anger against these twin agencies of fundamentalism.
Those who lift their voices in anger against the ideology of Islam enshrined in the Koran, which demands the deaths of infidels, those people who resist Islam in the public square are silenced. They are muffled either with the suffocation of accusations of prejudice by political dogmatists, or with death threats by Islamic dogmatists.
This happens whether they are the sophisticated Tom Holland asking questions about Mohammed on Channel 4, or the energised Tommy Robinson calling out to Luton as George Fox did to Lichfield: “If you don’t change your ways, blood will run through your streets.” If the anger is directed at the Government or media for its disingenuity in replacing the word ‘Muslim’ with the anodyne ‘terrorist’, the fundamentalists of ‘tolerance and inclusion’ bully them into silence with threats of the criminal law being used to charge them with hate speech.
In this context, Archbishop Cranmer has offered us some badly needed encouragement. He writes in defence of the heady antidote of ‘reason’. Well he might. Reason has driven the scientific revolution; reason has underlain liberal democracy; reason is the first tool of liberation that reformers grasp for. Reason, dialectical or otherwise, helps us peel away lies, distortions and untruth from the bedrock of reality.
In his analysis and encouragement, we are offered the following prescription:
You have to home in on the offending religion, identify its unacceptable precepts, expound its error, name and shame its false prophets, and declare something unequivocal along the lines of: ‘Mohammed of Mecca hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England’.
How might we do this? By teaching people to use the same techniques of textual criticism that scholars have used on all historical texts, including the New Testament. He continues:
This demands intelligent textual criticism; an understanding of context, culture and Sitz im Leben. Let us not just teach our schoolchildren to wash their hands before they touch the Qur’an or to be sure to place it back on the highest shelf in a place of honour, but how to analyse, critique and understand it, and then freely to assent to or repudiate every word of it.
It would be a serious step forward for every school in the country to teach textual criticism of the Koran; for the media to show some interest in reporting the issues; for Muslims to be held to account when contradictions and distortions in the text emerge for analysis.
Based on this social medicine offered to soothe our cultural disease, Cranmer concludes:
If we could now move on from the self-censorious unwritten blasphemy laws which leap to defend anything Islamic (and that includes hurling ‘racist’ and ‘Islamophobia’ at every tentative inquiry), we might just beat the religious fanatics with a hefty dose of reason and enlightenment.
It is the ‘if’ I want to explore. How does reason counter the weight of the criminal law and the weight of death threat? Where are the intellectual Tommy Robinsons, willing to stand in the full glare of the media and ask questions while all the time vigilantes search for the family address to assassinate (a venerable Muslim word) their families?
Even the Spectator TV critic wondered aloud in last week’s edition what Tom Holland was really thinking when he presented scrupulously careful commentary in his last film on Islam.
Where is the evidence that our society is capable of exercising reason in the face of these twin dogmatic fundamentalisms of political progressive propagandising and Islamic threat?
Emotion is calling out in the streets and on the internet in its apoplectic misery that our governing classes are more concerned to protect the hurt feelings caused by so-called Islamophobia, than protect our children from Rochdale rape gangs and Manchester bombers.
Reason asks if there is even such a thing as Islamophobia. Reason says that it is reasonable to be afraid of people committed to an ideology that uses violence and assassination against its enemies without theological or cultural constraint. Only the dogmatism of pseudo-therapy links this reasonable apprehension with a mental anxiety that is unreasonable of a fear of spiders (arachnophobia) or fear of being shut in small spaces (claustrophobia). If reason had any power in our society, Islamophobia, in its strict and etymological sense, would be a sign of sanity, not criminal intent.
Allied to a real anxiety, or even phobia, that Islam and the koranic practice of Islam means us harm and threatens our democracy and freedom of speech with the horror that progressive political dogmas of tolerance and inclusion have invented and legislated for double-speak that silences not only what we say but what we are deemed to think, we have the growing apprehension that our culture has lost its reason; or if not lost its reason and gone mad (though it might have) has lost its capacity for reason.
If this apprehension or even diagnosis is wrong, then bring on the Cranmerian public investigation of the Prophet Mohammed’s values and claims.
Bring on the changes to our educational curriculum that will allow the Koran to be exposed for what it truly is in the face of what it purports to be, all the while threatening those who dare to want to examine its claims in public.
Bring on the triumph of courage and reason. And then with Cranmer we can rejoice that England has defeated religious fanatics in the past, and will do so again.
But in case our society has lost its reason, or capacity to reason, those of us who have not need urgently to discuss what to do next.
Many of us believe that only full-bloodied Christianity has the passion, the moral force, the transformative power and the vision to counter the determination and inexorable forward march through Europe of Islam. Islam was once held off at the gates of Tours in the west and Vienna in the east, and it was held off by force. Since military force appears to be currently unimaginable, spiritual muscle, which is always morally and metaphysically preferable to military force, is the only other option.
Unless there is a better diagnosis of how the terror and inexorability of Islam can be countered in England, then let the Christians rediscover the confidence, and take their faith, their love and their voices into the public square, unashamed of either the mockery of the secularists, or the threat of the Islamists. Nothing in history has been able to halt the grim shadow of ‘the prophet’ across the face of human history except for the Risen Christ, who brings trust in the place of terror, forgiveness in the face of fanaticism, and culture and experience of life in the face of a culture and experience of death.